Employees who have unhappily or unwillingly left the workplace may believe they’ve been wrongfully terminated. However, employees who believe they’ve unfairly left their positions may not have met the legal requirements for a wrongful termination claim. Oregon, like most states, is an “at-will” employment state, meaning an employer can fire employees for nearly any reason or no reason an at all. Although several exceptions exist, many fall under the following three categories.
Member of a protected class
The first exception occurs when an employee was fired for discriminatory purposes. Discrimination must relate to an employee’s protected class, including race, color, sex, disability, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. Firing for these types of discriminatory reasons is unlawful and provides a foundation for a wrongful termination claim.
Breach of contract
Employees who have signed employment contracts with their employers may not be considered “at-will.” If fired before the contract expires, employees may have a wrongful termination claim. It’s important to review employment contracts for language stating whether an employer can fire contract employees for “good cause”. If such language exists, employers may escape wrongful termination claims.
The final exception to “at-will” employment occurs when employees take time off work to participate in legally protected activities. These activities can include jury duty, caring for a family member or to address other significant personal concerns. Employers also cannot fire employees for exercising rights, such as voting.
Employers also cannot fire employees for filing a workers’ compensation claim or for reporting employers’ illegal activity, also known as “whistleblowing.” This particular kind of wrongful termination is called “retaliation.”